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More storms needed to boost snowpack

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From page A1 | March 04, 2013 | 6 Comments

DSC_3930e

SNOWSHOE-CLAD local media from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento turn out to report on the annual snow survey, as measured by Frank Gehrke, near Sierra at Tahoe on Feb. 28. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

Unseasonably warm weather is keeping the snowpack below average for this time of year according to the most recent readings taken by the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR).

Conducted on Feb. 28 by Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Survey for CDWR, only 29 inches of hard packed snow were measured at Phillips Station, which is located near Echo Summit.

However, Gehrke said things are not grim yet because the water content of the snow is actually higher than it was last year at this time. When measured on Thursday, it was 13.4 inches or 54 percent of average for this time of year. A year ago it was 3.9 inches.

The amount of snow measured on Thursday was also higher than this time last year when it was at only 17.7 inches.

“Clearly it’s not what we want to see,” Gehrke said, “but it’s better than it was last year.”

Combined with readings taken from other locations, the snowpack water content is 66 percent of average for February and only 57 percent of the average April 1 reading when the snowpack is normally at its peak.

Gehrke said the one bright spot is reservoir storage which is still above average due to the rain received in November and December.

According to the CDWR, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s principal storage reservoir, is at 113 percent of its average level for this date and Shasta Lake, the federal Central Valley Project’s largest reservoir, is at 107 percent of its normal storage level. Only the San Luis Reservoir is significantly below capacity at 60 percent.

CDWR reported that January-February of this year were the driest two months on record since 1920 and Gehrke said they don’t see any new storms on the horizon for the next 10 days.

“It’s unusual for March to come in really strong,” he said noting that storms on the East coast may signal less rain for California. ”The most productive months are January, February and March. That’s when we expect the major storms. When we don’t have them, that’s when you have problems.”

“As we get into April, we will start to draw down water because of the marginal snowpack,” Gehrke said. “As a result, reservoir levels may decline because there is not enough snowpack to refill them.”

The snowpack, often called California’s frozen reservoir, provides about one-third of California’s water.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or dhodson@mtdemocrat.net. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

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